Design for Life: Gorgeous Garden, Efficient Home

Improve your home's energy efficiency through landscaping.

| May/June 2006


After decades of designing homes, one day it suddenly hit me: Most of our best efforts to create sustainable homes only cut back on our consumption of natural resources. On net, we’re still taking more than we give. Meanwhile, it’s easy to create a garden that actually produces valuable resources. Well-managed gardens create food, beauty and wildlife habitat while cleaning the air, enriching the soil and recharging groundwater reserves.

A good garden actually can improve your home’s comfort and energy efficiency. With a little basic knowledge and some observation, you can plan one that will work with your home as a whole system to reduce your fossil fuel use, while benefiting the rest of the world at the same time.

Gardening for a cooler summer

In climates with hot summers, air conditioning is often the biggest household energy cost. While that cool air may be a big relief, the temperature difference and life in a closed indoor environment may make us more susceptible to summer colds. What’s more, air conditioning separates us from fresh air, birds, butterflies and other warm-weather delights.

Shade and breezes are the two basic features of natural cooling that our ancestors knew well. Your garden can provide enough shade to reduce—or even eliminate—your need for air conditioning. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, carefully positioned trees can cut a household’s total annual energy consumption by 20 to 25 percent and may reduce air-conditioning costs up to 50 percent. Which would you rather look at, a tree or an air-conditioning unit? Which would you rather hear, a breeze rustling the leaves and birds singing…or that air conditioner?

Trees, shrubs and vines shade your house and yard and they cool the breezes flowing toward your windows and outdoor rooms. A well-planned landscaping program can reduce an unshaded home’s summer air-conditioning costs by 15 to 50 percent, according to energy expert John Krigger in his book Residential Energy (Saturn Resource Management, 2004).

elderberry, echinacea, bee hive


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